It’s quite possible there are several historical firsts involved in the recent ‘capping’ of Pastor Blessing Shambare of St. Peter’s Ecumenical Church in Slave Lake. There’s no way of knowing it for sure, but we’ll go out on a limb and say he’s the first pastor in the history of Slave Lake to have a PhD from the University of Pretoria.
Also highly likely is that he was the first graduate in theology from that institution to attend his graduation ceremony with his arm in a cast.
“I broke it cross-country skiing,” says Pastor Blessing (who is now also ‘Reverend Doctor’ Blessing). “The first time I had tried it.”
That was a couple of months ago, in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park.
Another highly likely first: a doctoral thesis on Bible-based transformation of Zimbabwean society proofread by a Slave Lake newspaper reporter. But that’s another story.
Shambare has been pastor of St. Pete’s for about the past 18 months. From 2013 to 2017 he worked on his thesis, submitting it late last year. On April 20 of this year he and four other theology doctoral graduates participated in the ceremony at the university. He describes it as refreshing and a big relief.
“The journey took me so long,” he says. “Studying and reading; I was frustrated along the way sometimes.”
A big part of the challenge in formulating the thesis, he says, was in making it relevant to contemporary circumstances. Its relevance to Zimbabwe and perhaps greater Africa is fairly obvious; but how about Slave Lake Alberta?
“I think it’s relevant globally,” he says. “Every society eagerly looks for an element of transformation, and the church has a role to play in that.”
But what is ‘the church,’ exactly?
“It is a living organism,” Shambare says. “Which exists as the body of Christ. You belong whether you are part of it or not.”
Getting back to the doctoral degree, Shambare says not a lot will change – at least for the time being – in his circumstances because of it, but it does make a personal difference.
“The quality of who I am changes,” he says. “It’s a process of transformation of me. I earned it.”
While in Africa, Shambare took the time to visit his mother and grandmother back home in Zimbabwe. They were “so excited to see me,” he says, and the visit “was a good experience.”
As for the country itself, whose social and economic difficulties crop up often in his doctoral theses, Shambare says there is a sense of new hope and an obvious change in freedom of expression. Elections are coming this year and people feel quite free to express themselves politically, “which was not the case before.”
“But economically it is still struggling,” he says.
Reverend Doctor Blessing Shambare